Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Shakespeare: Macbeth – Act 5, Scene 5
Prologue - The Shaping of 2054
Planet: Earth, 1507 CE
The Angel of the Lord appeared to Lucrezia Borgia.
The heavenly spirit was a short, dark form surrounded by a blue glow. The glow outlined its mysterious head and the shape of its wings. Near Lucrezia, in an adjoining room of the large palace in Ferrara, was her exceptionally beautiful, younger cousin, Angela Borgia Lanzol. Ultimately, both women were frightened to their very bones.
The small shuttle had left the host starship and entered the atmosphere on a steep dive, sweeping down over the Alps on a trajectory that would take it over Milan, Ferrara, and then angle across the Adriatic to the southeast. Passing over Ferrara, the pilot had urgently searched for an opportunistic, easy-to-enter dwelling. He preferred one with healthy, educated (and therefore, perhaps, more intelligent) examples of the indigenous sapient species. Unseen from below on the moonless night, the vehicle had halted above the largest structure in Ferrara and hung suspended above the castle while the single occupant scanned the building for individuals. There were several on the upper-most floor, two apparently sleeping in adjoining rooms.
In its blue, glowing flight suit, the Asiennen had slipped into the larger chamber through a pane-less window. He saw the occupant sit up slowly, rubbing its eyes. Seeing the creature’s enlarged mammaries, he recognized her as a feem, the alien’s word for the child-bearing or female of any self-aware, intelligent race. A second feem, wearing a long, diaphanous gown, her honey-brown hair fastened into a waist-length, thick braid draped forward over her left shoulder, entered the chamber from the next room to the right, calling out, “Lucrezia, è tutto bene?”
It was then that they both saw the Asiennen. Its flared carapace looked like wings to their sleep-befuddled, pre-technology eyes. Their first reaction was to cry out. But before they could react that way, using gestures accompanied by muffled clacking, the angel conveyed to them the need to be quiet and still as it approached Angela. She was in such a panic that she couldn’t have moved if her life depended on it, as she was sure it did.
The angel moved in front of her and reached for both of her small, cold hands, with claws that were hard on top and soft like fingers underneath. The angel pulled her down to kneel in front of it, so that she gazed directly into its own large, unblinking eyes. The angel gently brushed Angela’s braid back behind her shoulders and grasped her chin. He teased her mouth open. She put her tongue out, expecting the angel to give her a communion wafer. Instead, Angela felt the angel reach into her mouth and rub a rough object across the inside of both cheeks.
She was transfixed as she looked into the angel’s strange eyes. As a result, she barely felt the sting on her bare upper arm.
The angel seemed to glide to the bed where Lucrezia sat numbly, watching what happened to Angela with both fascination and confusion. Had this angel somehow, in its strange way, impregnated Angela with God’s seed? Why was it here, and why did it not speak at all? Clearly it was an angel; its glow identified it as a spiritual entity, as did the way it seemed to glide around. But it looked nothing like the fat, baby-like cherubs the masters painted.
Grasping both her hands, the angel coaxed Lucrezia off of the bed to kneel on the floor. It touched her chin and she immediately opened her mouth as she’d seen Angela do. She felt the rough scraping of the inside of both of her cheeks. Involuntarily, she made a bleating sound as the angel held her elbow. The fear and a sharp, piercing sting brought tears to her eyes. Finally, the angel released her arm and the stinging stopped. The angel reached up to the straps of her gown, pulling them down her arms so that the gown fell to the floor, draping across her kneeling legs in the back.
The angel indicated she was to stand. Surely, she presumed as she rose to her feet naked, I’ve been or am about to be suffused with God’s essence. She struggled not to swoon at the thought. By her hand, the angel led her away from the bed to stand unclothed in an open area of the room. It pulled Angela’s gown down and brought her to stand naked a few feet to the side of and slightly behind Lucrezia. The angel stepped back, lifting its head slightly higher and standing completely still. Two spots on either side of the top of its head flashed brightly twice. Lucrezia was absolutely certain that the Holy Ghost had come upon her and, perhaps, Angela too. What did this mean?
Angela started to cry openly, as the angel moved around behind them. Two more flashes followed, then four more as the angel moved first to one side, then the other side of them.
The two women, staring straight ahead, afraid to move at all, heard a rustling near the window. In her peripheral vision, Angela could see the angel effortlessly slip through the opening and disappear. They stood there for a long time before Lucrezia finally had the courage to move. Without bothering to retrieve her gown, she stepped cautiously to the window and looked out – up, down and to both sides. She could see nothing in the darkness.
Sitting on Lucrezia’s bed, the two women held each other’s shaking body until some of the panic fled. Finally, Lucrezia turned to her cousin, her favorite lady-in-waiting and said, cautiously, “Non parlare di questo con nessuno (Speak of this to no one).”
The angel, an Asiennen geneticist, managed to obtain samples from two males in the same edifice before returning to the ship that waited in orbit.
Planet Neerlia, League of Fate, 1547 CE
The Foreign Affairs Coordinator, the FAC, had humbled herself by making the trip to the bland, utilitarian headquarters of the Ministry of Expansion. In the League of Fate, the LOF, the Neerly were by far the dominant race. Under normal circumstances, being a Neerly herself, she would have expected others to come to her.
Unfortunately, the LOF’s rivals, the Serene Union of Races or SUOR were once again on the verge of upsetting the balance of power in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the younger races in both interstellar civilizations, and those uncommitted races on the periphery. The FAC felt a sense of urgency not shared by many others in the government. As a result, she was making the rounds to try to persuade her peers to her view of the situation, and actions the LOF should take over the short and very long terms.
The LOF and the SUOR societies were each based on suppositions that were mutually exclusive, and that led to different moral views. Either one or the other could be true, but not both. The fundamental disagreement had to do with the nature of intelligent life in the universe, or the multiverse, or both. The League of Fate was just that: a group of races that believed the universe was fully deterministic. In their philosophy, everything in existence behaved according to known or unknown laws of physics. No decisions were real, because the decisions themselves were the ultimate outcome of the configurations of matter and energy that preceded them – cause and effect.
The belief of the LOF had always been that free will was an illusion. If you were cleaver enough to know everything about an intelligent system, like a person, you could predict the decision that person would make – every time. It was only the lack of complete knowledge, that could ultimately be obtained, which made free will seem to be free.
The Serene Union of Races, of course, believed the opposite: that intelligent creatures actually could make free, unpredictable choices, and that the unpredictability was built into the fabric of reality.
There were millions, perhaps billions of pages of arguments on both sides, going back hundreds of thousands of years. Being the non-violent children of cooler orange or red stars, they contested with ideas, not weapons. The contest’s prize was influence and alignment of young races with one or the other of the interstellar civilizations.
The FAC stood before ten officials of the Ministry of Expansion, including her counterpart, the Expansion Coordinator, a rather white, bumpy-shelled, double-armed crustacean of the Neerly-uplifted, Do-Herty race.
“For the past century our nemesis, the SUOR, has been making jaunts into the next galactic outer arm, more-or-less in the region parallel to the main band of LOF worlds. We believe they’ve discovered five-to-seven pre-technological civilizations. At least four of these reside in systems of normal, red-dwarf stars.”
“Any techno civilizations?” The Expansion Coordinator, whom everyone referred to as the EC, interrupted her well-prepared monologue. Reflexively, her tail began to curl up into the defensive position, not unlike a scorpion getting ready to strike. Her rear legs, two of forty centipede-like legs, actually left the floor before she caught herself. She absolutely hated to be interrupted, and didn’t like the EC anyway. Fortunately, her action was missed by the EC, and didn’t precipitate a confrontation. The whole thing was typical of the impatient Do-Hertys, she thought. I guess the uplifters just couldn’t breed that out of them.
“I was coming to that,” she said, trying to further suppress her irritation at being interrupted. Perhaps she harbored a little sponsor-race condescension. Or maybe she just respected good manners.
“As far as we can tell, they haven’t found any technos. The races they’ve observed are pretty much the standard red-dwarf, shield-shell types. The exception would be one race on a planet circling a slightly larger red that appears to have minimal erratic emissions compared to the norm among our worlds or SUOR’s. They also may have stumbled across a race circling a yellow-white.”
“Zounds! Must be a real inferno!” The EC exclaimed. Can this man not keep his mouth shut? She questioned silently.
“Apparently not. As far as we can discern from the little we’ve been able to piece together, the yellow-white’s planet has good diversity, a habitable climate with three-phase water, dominated by the liquid phase. The pre-techno race is biologically unshielded.”
“Worms?” The EC asked. Fates preserve us! She thought. Is this an information briefing or a dialog? Testily, at least for a Neerly, she responded with, “Please be patient Coordinator, I’ll provide everything you want to know in context.”
The EC was miffed at her rebuke but said nothing. His four-clawed hands clicked impatiently.
Octal moron, she thought,
Her presentation flow was a shambles. She abandoned it and decided to go with a dialog, even if the EC was the only other person in the room or on video who was saying anything. “Actually, they’re primates.”
The EC looked at her askance before venturing to speak again. “Oh ho! That’s unusual in itself!”
“Perhaps. Since we know so little about worlds circling yellow-whites, who can say?”
“Why would they even bother with them since we know that the reds are so much more hospitable?”
“Hospitable to shielded races, you mean. Or those on planets or satellites of planets with high-potential magnetic fields. Many yellow-whites are quite well behaved. But you probably know that far better than I.” Before the EC could comment, she continued. “Besides, as far as we can tell, the Asiennens stumbled on it by accident.”
The FAC continued to review the information she had, answering questions as they arose. Finally, the EC could wait no longer to get to the point.
“And what,” he asked, “would you like Expansion to do about this? We certainly aren’t prepared to launch a colonization or absorption of civilizations outside this galactic arm, when there are so many places for us to consider much closer to home.”
“I’m about to propose that we establish an outpost there to keep an eye on things.”
“Zounds, FAC! It’s likely to be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years before any of these races reach a technological level – if ever! Do you have any reason to believe it’ll be sooner?”
“No.” Simply put was probably the best answer here, she decided.
“You don’t think even the SUOR would try to mess with a pre-techno, do you?”
“No. After all, they believe in the nonsensical theory that those races should be able to decide their own fate. As though they could freely choose their own destiny.”
Everyone laughed at the joke – jokes about the fundamental difference between the LOF and the SUOR always elicited at least a polite chuckle.
“Then why should I reassign precious resources that might be better spent discovering or monitoring new races much nearer to our own realm?”
“Because, dear EC, I don’t want one of my successors – even one a thousand years from now – to suddenly realize that we’ve been outflanked by the Serene Union of Races. Besides, I’m only suggesting that we send a floater to the vicinity. It can spend a century or so in one system, then move to another. Or move a bit every year or so. If anything unusual happens, we’ll know about it.”
“And the crew? How long can they be in isolation in the middle of nowhere, with, mostly, nothing important to do?”
“I don’t know; a year rotation doesn’t sound like much of a hardship.”
“A year! The cost of moving a crew that far every year would destroy the entire budget of any one of my departments. Not to mention the cost of establishing a station in the first place. Especially one with the necessary safeguards.”
“Safeguards against what?” She was growing impatient with the Do-Herty now. “These races are all many millennia away from even launching a satellite.”
The EC couldn’t believe her naiveté. “The ones you’ve found out about from your SUOR sources are, but we know nothing about what neighbors, or even leagues or empires, may exist right next door, with technologies equal to our own! If they’re there, you’ll have a frightful mess on your own hands!”
“I’m sure, with the experience Expansion has, that you can observe surreptitiously and cautiously. I’m willing to go to the council with you to ask for funds. Perhaps you could rotate crews less often.”
“It’s too bad we don’t have Artificial Minds. We could probably position one at each system and just leave them. You can’t do that with bios.”
Only a member of a young race like the Do-Herty would bring up that tired, worn argument.
“EC, you know as well as I do that the decision about Artificial Minds was made even before the Do-Herty were uplifted – and made by those far more capable than we are. The decision has stood the test of time. Let’s not waste our own time rehashing it.”
The Do-Herty male knew he’d stepped out-of-line. As a result, his impetuous mouth had caused him to lose face and weaken his ability to decline. The best he could do was to put the onus back on the FAC.
“Alright, if you’ll support me in the proposal, I’ll agree to take it to the Council.” There wasn’t a chance they’d fund it, but then she’d shut-up about it, at least for a few years.
As it turned out, the economy was good, paranoia about their rivals, the SUOR, was up, and the Council easily agreed to fund the station. Unfortunately for the EC, they required him to fund the year-to-year operation from his existing budget.
Of course, one of his successors could reevaluate the charge with the Council – in a thousand years.
The LOF Council made decisions for the very long term.
Thus it was that an LOF station, manned by two Do-Herty male-feem couples, on two-year rotations, was put into place in the Orion arm, initially some twenty-two light years from Earth. Probes were regularly sent to listen for activity and actually detected two new, young, technological civilizations on planets of red dwarf stars. It would move every year along a narrow ellipse within the Orion spiral arm of the galaxy, to watch and report on what was happening out there, but mostly to wait … and wait … and wait …
At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was at its farthest distance from Earth, about 380 light years. By 2054, it was still almost 230 light years distant, still too far away to pick up the humans’ earliest radio signals.
The last probe sent in the direction of Earth whipped past it on October 28, 1886, the day the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York harbor. The probe noted the presence of atmospheric gasses indicating that industrialization might be occurring on the planet below, but there was total radio silence. When the probe returned to the outpost, the crew decided that the LOF could safely wait five or six hundred years before there was a need to send another probe.
There were a lot of stars to watch, after all, and a budget to control.
Planet: Bacaac, Serene Union of Races, 2030 CE
Hattee 9-101b1 was seven dodex, eighty-four days, into her twenty-two dodex gestation. The bihex had decided that the feem, the female child she bore, would be serious-dominant, if they could get authorization from the Department of Population Balance. They really didn’t expect a problem – there was always a shortage of serious-dominants - and there hadn’t been one. They had the requested authorization, but it had arrived later than expected, due to vacations within the local branch of PopBal. As a result, the six bihex feems were hard-pressed to craft the gestation glyph in time. Fortunately, their six male, bihex mates had stepped in to help and the glyph was ready.
Haste had spawned a glyph that was somewhat narrower and more directed than the norm. There also hadn’t been time to craft a meaningful secondary dominance. Juxtaposed to the bihex feems’ business-like construction, and with a display of playful good humor, reflecting the playful-dominance of the bihex, the males had slipped in some interesting traits that would give the child occasional bursts of uninhibited spontaneity in its adolescence and adulthood. They’d felt a need to temper the narrowed seriousness of the glyph that resulted from the time-pressed female effort.
Now, in the evening, all twelve bihex mates gathered in the great room for the gifting ceremony. The timing coincided with twilight as the red dwarf star, Capa, dipped below the horizon. The smallest of Bacaac’s three moons was just visible through the curved front windows as a brighter red spot above the blood-red sunset. The relaxed chatter drifted away as the bihex focused on the task at hand.
Hattee was more-or-less in the center of the group, each one of whom was touching four others. Hattee could just feel the embryo, already registered as Bit 4-101b1, stir as its father grasped her upper left hand. A song arose from the twelve and they began to sway in time with the hums and soft clicks of the music. Eleven pairs of antennae tilted toward Hattee. The communal glyph that would lay the framework for the child’s inclination began to form between Hattee’s antennae. The glyph was the result of their hurried planning; its structured, magnetic information globe was contributed to and powered by each person in the bihex family.
The song continued as the glyph came into clear focus. The twelve sensed its moment of completion at the same instant. The song stopped. The glyph seemed to hang in the air between Hattee’s antennae for several moments. It suddenly disappeared as Hattee ingested it. Her female neural infusion organs routed the glyph to the newly formed antennae of the tiny embryo within her. The glyph itself, with the force of all twelve adult personalities, imprinted its structure on the brain of Hattee’s child. As Bacaans had done since time immemorial, the basic personality of the child was formed by the twelve who were responsible for bringing her into the world.
Planet: Earth, 2036 CE
Tariq Qadir had just returned to Islamabad from a visit to the city of Mason, in an area called the Cincinnati-Dayton Metroplex, which straddled the American states of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. His brother had managed to migrate there seven years earlier. His brother, Bilal, had paid for the trip for Tariq, his wife, and their little boy and girl. Tariq had never seen a place like Mason. He’d never known such places existed in all the world. It was paradise on earth. Everything anyone ever wanted, and all the money to buy it, and the freedom to choose, all in one place. He practically had to drag his wife to the airport when it was time to return home. She was still in a state of depression a month later.
Bina Gupta, along with her sister, her husband, and their two girls had returned to Mumbai from Toronto a few weeks ago. Her brother hadn’t wanted them to go back, and neither had she wanted to leave. In the month they were in Canada, her children had blossomed into free, fun-loving, extroverted, unbridled spirits. Her husband and she had bonded deeply with the beautiful city and the spacious land surrounding it. It had been heaven on earth.
Relaxing at home at what was simultaneously 9:17 pm in Islamabad and 9:47pm in Mumbai, both the Qadir’s and the Gupta’s were vaporized into subatomic particles, as though their particular configurations of matter had never existed.
Earth had approached that cusp before, specifically, during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Cooler, or perhaps more frightened heads had prevailed and the planet had stepped back from nuclear disaster.
More than seventy years later, part of the world reached the brink again. This time, egos, religion, revenge and a visceral need to dominate ruled the day. India and Pakistan stepped into the abyss. Before the United States and China intervened, cutting off the heads of both countries, over fifty million humans were dead, a radioactive cloud covered Earth, and a miniature nuclear winter caused famine for four years on a planet that had finally become able to feed everyone.
Planet: Earth, 2038 CE
Two years after the 36-hour war, a meteorite the size of a two-car garage slipped past NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program and detonated three miles above the Favela Morumbi in São Paulo, killing 500,000 people as the explosion obliterated the favela and nearby high rise apartments.
The people of Earth had had enough and the news media reinforced those feelings. There was nowhere to go to escape the instantaneous video streaming at them, displaying in hideous detail what had happened to their fellow human beings in India, Pakistan and now, Brazil. Their human spirit, even their sense of oneness with other humans was deeply affected. Across the planet, they saw their brethren beaten down, vaporized by the folly and incompetence of the leadership they’d looked to for protection.
Those millions dead, “MILLIONS DEAD!” as the headlines and newscasters screamed, were people just like them. They were people who loved their children, who worked hard to better their lives and those of loved ones. They were people who struggled, laughed, hoped and dreamed of a fulfilling existence. Most of those millions didn’t care what anyone else did, as long as they were left alone to live their own lives as best they could. The world as it was had failed them. Something at the deepest level of human intercourse had to change. Tribalism, intolerance, mindless confrontation on a planet approaching nine billion humans had to stop. The human race would not go into oblivion, would not fail, would not become extinct. The human race would be protected. All would be given a future, and the opportunity to shape it for themselves.
A hundred years with the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over them, constantly under missile threat from any tin-horned dictator or reasonably, well-funded religious fanatic, and unprotected from space junk falling on them was enough. The movement for security found fertile ground in developed and developing countries, democracies and dictatorships, among the rich and poor. Fueled by hundreds of related sites on the ubiquitous Internet, a significant portion of the world population poured into the streets. Unlike the mostly-unsuccessful Arab Spring of 2011, 2012, 2013 and so on, these crowds, now numbered in the billions, demanded the protection their governments had promised them and never delivered. The seething masses forced the worlds’ leaders to agree to a global defense system.
Trust among those leaders was no better than it had ever been. The aging, ineffective, corrupt United Nations was incapable of dealing with the demands of most of the planet’s population. It took some years, but, finally, the reluctant leaders formed the DNE, the Determined Nations of Earth. They gave DNE direct responsibility for creating the Shield, and, forced by their own populations, the financial means to do it. They also gave it oversight of Shield development.
It required fifteen years and several trillion dollars. Eventually, the planet was surrounded by a buckyball of sixty killer platforms in geosynchronous orbit, such that every square meter of the entire surface of Earth and the space above it was covered by at least five defense stations. No ballistic missile, space junk, meteor, asteroid or comet could get through the Shield without permission. Maybe a particularly fast, stealthy, and ground-hugging cruise missile could fly to its target undetected, but probably not.
To insure that no nation or group of nations would ever be able to take control of the Shield, the DNE handed Shield operation to a superintelligence, the artificial intelligence machine known as the Defensive Response Accountable Computer or DRAC.
DRAC was the last project overseen by the retiring Stanford Professor and Intel Scientist, Dr. Enrico Messina.
Planet: Neerlia, Leagueof Fate, 2054 CE
Somehow, those duplicitous SUOR scientists had found what might turn out to be an active, Antecedent artifact on one of their younger planets, even before the League of Fate suspected that the site existed. Whatever the ancients had to say about the free or deterministic nature of intelligent decisions in the universe, assuming the artifact could shed any light on that sensitive topic, the Serene Union of Races would either completely misunderstand it or misrepresent what they found.
The cold war had festered, mostly in the background but occasionally with open vigor, for millennia. It was an unresolved, fundamental question about the very essence of existence, and the role of intelligent life. As such, it sucked the energies and devoured significant resources of two collections of star systems in the galaxy. New-found knowledge, new theories, novel experiments and unexpected events would tip the balance toward the SUOR or toward the LOF, but neither had been able to gain a persistent foothold in their philosophical battle over the nature of things, and what that meant for how intelligent beings should conduct themselves.
For the past several hundred years, the beliefs of the LOF, the League of Fate, had held sway. This latest discovery by the SUOR, the Serene Union of Races, threatened to undermine the hard-won consensus the LOF had continued to build slowly over the ages, even if it were only a deception created by the SUOR. With the artifact in their hands, the SUOR could claim that the ancients believed any starry-eyed thing at all; even that the ancients agreed with the philosophical underpinnings of the SUOR, that the universe was not deterministic at its very core. Any child in the LOF would know better.
Still unaccustomed to only four, mostly-rigid legs, Tunem Henco walked stiffly into the office and stood across the desk from Acyt Vukann. There were no ramp-chairs to accommodate Tunem’s Asiennen form. Acyt couldn’t help but smile at her long-time friend.
“Tunem, you look like shit. You walk funny, too.”
“I fulfill my destiny,” Tunem responded humorlessly.
“Without a spring in your step, I see.”
“Nor a song in my heart.”
Acyt chuckled. “Well, at least we didn’t turn you into a Bacaan …” Acyt stared at her unblinking friend. It took a few moments, and then they both burst into unrestrained laughter.
“You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you, Chief?” Tunem managed between flashing, visual guffaws. Acyt had turned brilliantly, near-infrared with mirth.
“Oh yes. I remember the practical jokes you loved to play on me years ago. Payback is fate!” She laughed again, glowing an even-longer-wavelength color. Tunem saw her pause in thought and a more serious, deep-green hue began to spread over her.
“Was the transition uncomfortable, Tunem?”
“Not at all; I slept through it. Waking up was disturbing, though. I never thought Asiennens were much to look at. Now that I am one, I’m convinced my impression was right in the first place.”
“How is your mind?” She knew of the multiple personalities – no, they called them ‘*aspects,’ since they shared a base mind – that were characteristic of half of all Asiennens.
“A bit unsettled, I’d say. They tell me that mapping a stable, Neerly mind into a brain designed to be split into sub-individuals or sub moods – we really don’t have a meaningful term for it - was touchy. For the most part, my Neerly mind is in what the Asiennens would call the *Base. However, I’ve noticed that the technical part of my mind – I’m an archeologist by training, you know – seems to operate independently of the part of my mind responsible for accomplishing the mission. They don’t get in each other’s way as such, it’s more like I seem to be following at least two different, sometimes competing, trains of thought at the same time. There’s a third train that seems concerned with relaxing, or play. I do struggle to make sense among them, once in a while.”
“Poor Tunem. But you do a great service to the League.”
“It is my destiny.”
“Perhaps, but it’s also your bravery.” She saw by his still-Neerly body language that she’d embarrassed him. Some would say her comment bordered on heresy too. She decided to get directly to business. “The plans are in place, then, for inserting you on Asienne?”
“Yes, Acyt. Or, more specifically, on a ship leaving Asienne for Bacaac. I’m to be one of two passengers who are technicians to be added to the project there. I’ll be unexpected on Bacaac, but I’ll have the necessary certification that I was sent by the sponsors on Asienne, as an addition to the recently-formed archeological team.”
“When do you leave Neerlia?”
“As soon as we finish here.”
Acyt sighed. She was sending her friend into harm’s way. “Then I suppose I should let you go. Please be careful my dear friend.” She was suddenly overcome with admiration for and attraction to Tunem, even if he did look like an Asiennen at the moment. “Perhaps, when you return, we might spend some intimate time together?”
“I will be down for a period of transition back to a Neerly.”
“Not a problem for me. We could see each other as soon as you return. It might be … ah … interesting.”
Tunem made an Asiennen expression she didn’t recognize.
“And we could spend time together after you transitioned back, of course.”
“I would like that, Acyt.”
“Then be careful and return to me.”
“As the fates allow, Chief.” He smiled, turned and left awkwardly. He’ll have to practice that walking, Acyt thought. What an interesting man in any form. I’ll be very glad to spend time with him when he returns.
Unfortunately, Acyt would never see him again.